It's here. It's finally here. The Grand National is upon us. But Saturday at Aintree is not just about the greatest race of them all. There are fully six supporting races, and that's excluding the Legends jolly-up that starts the card!
Let's face it, though. It's been a pretty good week on the preview front, and plenty of geegeez readers are nicely in front, I'm delighted to report. Friday's unrepeatable 66/1 winner and four exactas was added to yesterday with a £17.90 exacta in the opener; the winner (at 12/1 early), fourth, and fifth in the Topham; the £31.40 exacta in the fifth race; and, the 14/1 winner of the sixth (granted, I didn't really have a strong opinion on the race!).
So, it's likely all downhill from here...
With that somewhat defeatist attitude in mind, here's how I see Grand National Saturday unfurling...
1.45 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S MERSEY NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 2
Some excellent winners of this down the years, including Spirit Son, Peddlers Cross and Best Mate in recent times. And this year's winner could be another golden embellishment on the roll of honour.
Simonsig is the favourite, and at odds on too. He was a convincing and impressive Cheltenham Festival winner in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle, and as a consequence his rating has shot up to 157. That is a whole stone better than his nearer rival here, on official terms at least.
He's far and away the best of these on evidence so far, and could be open to improvement. Assuming he's not (open to improvement, that is), is there anything which could progress sufficiently to make a race of it?
Well, probably not is the short answer. But let's entertain the whimsy for a moment, nevertheless.
Next best on official ratings are Molotof and Colour Squadron, two horses I like a lot. The former looked most progressive prior to a stinker in the Martin Pipe handicap at Cheltenham. Ignoring that run gives him place prospects.
Colour Squadron has also looked on the front foot, again before a below par show in the Supreme. He's stepping up a bit in trip here, which ought not to be too much of a problem given his breeding and the way he travels in his races, and - if you can overlook that moderate run the last day - he's in with a place squeak too... though I can't see him beating Simonsig.
There are two unbeaten horses (excluding spills) here, and they are Aland Islands and Super Duty. The former has won nicely enough in Class 4 company, but was pushed out so to do last time. That hardly implied he had an ace / king suited up his sleeve for today.
The latter, however, has been more impressive, aside from his tumble in a falsely run soft ground affair at Ayr. There are enough reasons to ignore that contest (dawdle, ground), and plenty in support of his chance based on the remaining balance of form. Super Duty has plenty of stamina and a touch of class, allied to battling qualities and I'd expect him to be close to second place honours here.
Ultimately, this looks a shoo in for Simonsig, and I'd take either Colour Squadron or Super Duty to round out the exacta.
Selection: Simonsig 4/9
Next Best: Colour Squadron 12/1
Lively Outsider: Super Duty 12/1
2.15 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S MAGHULL NOVICES´ CHASE GRADE 1
There was prize money down to eighth place in this race, and yet only four show up. This is almost entirely due to the presence of a certain Sprinter Sacre. I was against 'The Machine' at Cheltenham, largely because I felt no horse could win that race on the bridle and I questioned what he'd find under pressure.
I was wrong, as he did win pretty much on the bridle, and against much better horses than he faces here.
Obviously, 1/6 is not to everyone's tastes, but this really is 'bar a fall' material. SS is nearly two stone clear of his closest rival on official ratings, goes on the ground, loves the trip, and has only himself to beat. He should lead and win easily. I won't bet against it either.
The question about what might finish second is interesting and I'd have reasons to oppose both Toubab and Australia Day. The former is a bit in and out: a dodgy jumper who doesn't always find for pressure (largely because of what he takes out of himself with sketchy leaping), and the latter is an old lag whose recent form figures of '11' flatter him, having been achieved in country fair races.
The field is rounded out by the consistently slightly above average Kudu Country and, if anyone wanted to bet the exacta here, he'd offer a sliver of value. He's run the second fastest of these (after SS, natch) and, despite the small field, it's reasonable to assume that Sprinter will try to run them off their feet, making for a quick final time. Actually, I think that's highly likely, given that Geraghty has little chance of stopping SS from hurtling at the haystacks from tape rise.
On official and Racing Post ratings, Kudu Country has little to find with the other two runners and, at a much bigger price, he's worth chancing.
But, in truth, unless you've a lot of sixes to try to match up with a lot of ones, this won't be a betting race.
Selection: Sprinter Sacre 1/6
Next Best: Fresh Air (No Offers)
Lively Outsider: Kudu Country 33/1
2.50 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S AINTREE HURDLE GRADE 1
An excellent Grade 1 over two and a half miles for top class experienced hurdlers. In the betting, this is a three way go between Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby, reigning Aintree Hurdler Oscar Whisky, and young pretender Zarkandar. Thousand Stars, last year's runner up, is not out of it either.
I am absolutely convinced that this is the ideal trip and track for Oscar Whisky, and I think he'll probably win, though it won't be easy in such top company.
The pace in the race could be key, and it is probable that Thousand Stars will take them along, perhaps from Oscar Whisky.
Rock On Ruby has been as impressive as he has progressive this term, and he comes here in buoyant form. However, he was found wanting at this meeting last year, and I had the strong impression that he very much had the run of the race in the Champion Hurdle. Fair play to him for winning that, but I'd question whether lightning might strike twice for this fine chap.
Zarkandar is a future champion. He has all the attributes, and was one of a number caught flat footed in that Champion Hurdle. He ran on well, suggesting that this trip will suit, but it's debatable whether he'll get the strong pace that he might need here. Moreover, he would almost certainly have been beaten here last year if Grandouet hadn't been brought down at the second last.
He's a horse I'll be very interested in next year, but I think there are more seasoned pro's for today's melee.
Which brings me to Oscar Whisky. Obviously I'm talking through my pocket, but he clearly ran in the wrong race at Cheltenham and this was one of those 'Hendo looking after his main owners at the expense of his second tier paymasters' decisions.
OW would have at least placed in the Champion. He didn't stay in the World Hurdle, and his assistant trainer stated emphatically that he wouldn't stay the three miles there at the London Racing Club preview ten days or so beforehand. So, why the ...foxtrot... did they run him? To look after dear old JP's Binocular who, as it turned out, got caught out of his ground and could only manage fourth. Sour grapes? Conspiracy theory? Bitter and twisted? Moi? You bet!!!!
Anyway, perfect conditions greet Oscar this day, and there will be no excuses if my wager whistles west. I'm on, and I think he has a devil of a chance. 9/4 is the universal price, and fair enough at that.
Thousand Stars almost rolled OW over last term here, but almost is a story of this one's life. There's a good chance he'll try to make all here, and he has stamina abundant. But it's very hard to think that one of the poursuivants won't have too much final furlong toe for him.
Selection: Oscar Whisky 9/4
Next Best: Zarkandar 9/4
Lively Outsider: Nothing
3.25 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S HANDICAP CHASE (LISTED RACE)
The first of the dreaded handicaps, and you'll know by now that I've largely done well to swerve them (though I did nominate both Always Waining and Attaglance yesterday).
I don't have strong opinions here, so the following is 'pinch of salt' material...
It's a terrible trends race, with horses aged six to twelve (!) winning; horses weighted from 09-12 to 12-00 winning; and, horses priced 3/1 to 22/1 winning.
However, one interesting point is that twelve of the last fifteen winners finished in the first five or fell last time. Eight winners ran at Cheltenham last time, which means seven didn't! Again, not much help. Saying that, the eight winners came from just 76 runners, so I'll favour Cheltenham runners. Of the eight Cheltenham runner winners, four were placed 1-2-3 at the March Festival.
As you can see, it's getting tenuous, so no more than token selections are Battle Group and Ackertac, fourth and fifth behind Hunt Ball in the novices' handicap chase at the Festival.
The former won here last year over hurdles, and looked a bit of a plot job at Chelters last time. As it turned out, he went off 33/1 so perhaps only I spotted it! In any case, he ran a cracker, and this easy track clearly suits, based on his facile defeat of Ringaroses (ran well again here on Thursday) last term.
Battle Group has had a lot of racing - eight starts this season, and four this year - so could just be over the top. But a game effort last time and track form make him a player, notwithstanding the 'could be knackered' reservation.
Ackertac could never get into it in that race, and stayed on well for fifth. He needs to clean up his jumping but, if he is more respectful of the barriers, ought to be thereabouts. This extra half mile looks right up his alley, and I'd hope he'd make the frame granted upright status is retained.
Chapoturgeon ran a blinder to beat all bar Salsify (great win for me and geegeez readers!!) in the Cheltenham Foxhunters, and whilst his predominantly waning star is constellated with a number of waxers here (if you see what I mean), he has the form to go close.
Alas, the Chapo chap has been rather unlucky at Aintree, having fallen and been brought down in his two visits to date. It's unfair (and indeed untrue) to suggest he doesn't act here on the back of that, and he does have plenty of flat track form. At the price, though, I'd be prepared to let him beat me.
There are a few at prices who could take a hand. Saint Are won a Grade 1 hurdle here last season; Tullamore Dew has promised plenty but delivered less; and, Noland is an aging rock star with plenty of A List stories.
Ultimately though, I'll be tickling Battle Group and Ackertac and trying to get through the placepot, assuming I'm still in with a squeak come race four.
Selection: Ackertac 12/1
Next Best: Battle Group 7/1
Lively Outsider: Saint Are 12/1
4.15 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S GRAND NATIONAL CHASE (HANDICAP) GRADE 3
I've dealt with the Grand National itself elsewhere - here in fact - and I stand by my comments there.
Obviously, it's a race to savour and, for the benefit of racing's image, I hope all horses and riders come home safe... and that I back the winner!
In the interest of completeness, my picks are below.
Selection: Chicago Grey 18/1
Next Best: Killyglen 20/1
Lively Outsider: The Midnight Club 40/1
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5.05 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S HANDICAP HURDLE (FOR CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS AND AMATEUR RIDERS)
The classic 'sublime to ridiculous' manoeuvre, as we go from world's greatest race to conditional and amateur jockeys' handicap hurdle. And this, the last leg of the placepot to boot!!
I have to say that these type of scraps are waaaay too hard for me, and I defer to those who know better. Obviously, Paintball was impressive when winning the Imperial Cup and shrewdly swerved Cheltenham, meaning he's had time to recover from what must have been a hard enough race.
The three winners of this race to date were priced 11/1, 14/1 and... 66/1! They were all rated in the 130's, which at least gives us something to aim at.
In races like this, it often pays to look for course form and/or big field form. With that in mind, I'm mildly drawn to Dee Ee Williams, Sire De Grugy and Idarah. I'm also including Ubi Ace and the aforementioned Paintball.
Kazlian, the very short favourite from highly respected connections, is a four year old. That doesn't mean he can't win it, but the fact that only one of his age has tried in the three years... and that five year olds are 0 from 16 (and only one of them finished better than fourth)... leads me to look for a price on something else.
If I get through the placepot I'll be chuffed. If I find the winner, I'll be gobsmacked.
Selection: Sire De Grugy 10/1
Next Best: Paintball 15/2
Lively Outsider: Idarah 33/1
5.35 Aintree - JOHN SMITH´S CHAMPION STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE GRADE 2
And so to the last. A Grade 2 bumper. Masses of big priced winners in recent years, including 66/1, 28/1, 50/1, 25/1, and 33/1 twice! So good luck if you fancy a shortie...
Eight winners were first or second last time out, including 66/1 Sitting Tenant, 14/1 Honest John, and 50/1 The Cool Guy, since 2005.
Ten winners had had two or three prior starts, and all had been off for 16+ days since their last run. Only 23 horses who contested the Cheltenham bumper came here subsequently, but four of them won, for a tidy 46 point profit. Many Clouds, Sir Johnson and The New One represent that race's form here.
Trainers with race 'previous' include Peter Bowen (Sir Johnson) and Nigel Twiston-Davies (The New One). Their entries are doubly respected as a consequence.
In a race which should be watched from the bottom of a pint glass, with a very small wager safely in hand, I'll also be looking for a northern trainer with a runner at a price. The once raced unbeaten Yes Daddy is as good a pin stick as anything, and is sure to improve. Whether he can find enough to compete here is the big question, but 50/1 says he's worth a small go.
Selection: The New One 13/2
Next Best: Sir Johnson 12/1
Lively Outsider: Yes Daddy 50/1
And that, dear reader, will be that. I sincerely hope you've enjoyed the geegeez coverage of Aintree, and that your punting has been fun and perhaps profitable - it shouldn't be any other way.
I'll be back next week with plenty to look forward to so do stay tuned for that. In the meantime, good luck this afternoon, and have a great weekend. Remember, it's only sport. 😀
And, as always, feel free to leave a comment (just below the blatant promotional materials under this sentence!) and tell us of your wagering wins and/or woes. We're in this together!